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Posted 4/5/2013

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  I love this word, "truthiness", and I love this essay by Susan Gubar that introduced me to it. The word, coined by Stephen Colbert, refers to the insistent belief in something despite there being no objective/real evidence to support it. Vis a vis cancer, Ms Gubar  uses this word to describe her instinctive firm belief in her continuing good health in spite of rising cancer markers and in spite of her oncologist telling her that the ovarian cancer had returned. It also makes me think of several conversations I have had with women this week re their inability to separate wish from superstition from instinct from knowledge. Their examples had to do with a sense before diagnosis that something was wrong, and their worry now that concern abot a symptom or just a vague unease might carry the same unwanted truth.

  "Truthiness" probably applies in the non-cancer world, too. What about a conviction that there is danger in a particular choice or that a charged person is innocent or that only organic foods are safe to eat? We often operate from a place of belief that actually cannot be fully supported by the facts, but that rarely shakes our opinions. In Ms Gubar's example, her holding on to the "truthiness" of her health actually made it possible for her enjoy more time without intense worry. One might also call this denial, which is also often a helpful strategy.

  Here is an excerpt from this marvelous piece of writing and then a link to read it all:

I persist in this formulaic asking and telling because my sense of myself has turned out to be

less valid than my oncologist’s assessment of me. While I was feeling perfectly fine during

remissions (or as fine as I could feel after numerous surgeries and chemotherapies), she

informed me three times — on the basis of blood tests and scans — that a recurrence had

begun. Plunged into a cloud of unknowing, my mind must have swerved from the realities

that rule my body. Then I twist in the trap of cognitive dissonance: I think that my body is

healthy, but the disease has returned. I am not the person I believe myself to be.

The perplexity of this situation is captured by a word coined by

Stephen Colbert: truthiness.


Truthiness is a perception that a person feels to be true or claims to know intuitively without

any regard to facts or objective investigation. A perception that a person feels to be true: I

not only look OK, I feel fine. Yet the rising blood marker and the scan prove me to be ill.

These antithetical perspectives split me in two. The disjunction between lived experience, on

the one hand, and scientific evidence, on the other, cleaves my spirit. It distresses me that

my oncologist resides with truth, I with truthiness.

Like remission, maintenance is a period of time saturated with truthiness — especially for

patients who remain asymptomatic. And truthiness casts a pall






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